Tuesday, 8 September 2009


Finally, it's the last day of summer holidays with my daughter going back tomorrow. Consequently she insisted on a final day of "bonding" with her mother, which really meant using all her powers of persuasion to exploit me to the maximum....new fountain pen and all. Bloody bored of stationary now.

I'm sorry they're all going back. Not because I'm going to miss them, but because I have to get up early. This summer (when they have been around), it has all worked quite well - mainly because my older two children are now entirely capable of entertaining themselves. My third and last child suffers a bit with my lack of full on interest, but surely that is what makes third and/or last children so special? They have to be creative and imaginative and independent simply because their parents can no longer be arsed to amuse them.

The great thing is that I don't even have to feel guilty about it anymore because there is a new parenting book out called "Can We Give Them Back Now?" which has coined the term "benign neglect". It suggests that we redress the balance of family life, where we attempt to meet our children's needs, but don't pander to their every whim. It's about being around but not actually available at all times.

I don't really have a major problem with this approach to parenting. It's how I grew up. My parents magnificently honed the art of "benign neglect". Choosing instead to drink coffee and/or alcohol and read papers and books and talk to friends and generally have a fun-filled child-free time, even when the kids were about. They used to forget we existed for entire days. Even weeks and months. In fact we were lucky to be found alive after several occasions of being locked in the back of the car with a packet of crisps and a sleeping bag. The same applied when we went anywhere near water. Our parents would feed us a packet of crisps and then tell us that we had to stay out of the water for the next three hours in case we got cramp and drowned. I can hardly believe they got away with it.

The principle behind the approach and the resulting benefits seem entirely obvious to me. Parents become less stressed and resentful and children become more independent. My one criticism is the title. I don't like it. What's wrong with "f*ck off, I'm busy?"

Or maybe that's a bit too harsh.


  1. I believe that Larry, follows the philosophy of 'benign neglect', he wants them to make their own mistakes and picks up after themselves, and in a way I do too..it's just that I start to mither about them, scarf , gloves and clean hanky kinda a way but not so fussing. I hope.

    Then I take a funny turn and think, yeah you ARe walking all over us, well ME...so stuff it or as you said, F**k off I'm busy...or want to laze on the couch with the remote so tough!

    But I rarely do....its a fine line..but I do so hanker over the days when the piece of rope was a few miles longer!!!

  2. Benign is a word I can accept, but neglect isn't. My Thesuarus has 4 degrees of neglect and none are benign enough to be substituted...the nearest, and most acceptable is procrastination...a word I am very fond of and first heard in a very early TV show called, I think: Give us a clue. Anyway it was a mime game, bit like Charades, where two teams were given phrases or saying which they had to mime. Procrastination is the thief of time-was the only one to stick in my memory.
    Benign Procrastination does not sound as if it is a phrase that will cause the appearance of the Child Police. One can wave one's coffee cup/wine glass and say 'later darlings, later. Just amuse yourself meanwhile.